Shaking up the Engineering Industry | The Potential of 3D Printing

Posted by Holly Maunders on 22 June 2018

Another top 3 whitepaper by one of our fantastic Squared Online Module 5 groups. Congratulations to Winnie Namboyera, Lewis Bostock, Rebecca Benson, Carlotta Serantoni, Katherine Jamieson and Janet Titterton, for this stellar piece of work on how 3D printing could truly disrupt how Engineering companies work. 

Introduction - The trend

3D printers and printing technology has been around for over 30 years and comparable to other significant transformational technologies, such as augmented reality and artificial intelligence, is only really starting to impact our lives today. 
This is being made possible with superior machines, improved printing materials and lower overall production costs. The technology is now a viable alternative to conventional manufacturing processes, and it is claimed that its primary benefits of improved production methods and reduced waste could have a positive economic impact of up to $550bn a year by 2025.1
3D printing, or Additive Manufacturing, is a computer controlled process with the potential to create instant, lightweight, and sturdy components at a fraction of the cost of traditional engineering methods. The process starts with a CAD (computer aided design) file that has been created with three dimensions. The software then sections the model into layers and the solid object is formed by printing successive layers of material in accordance with the software instructions.

Recent innovations

Recent innovations in 3D printing that have impacted the engineering industry include: the printing of houses in China, the printing of a full size bridge in Amsterdam and the development of a submersible vessel for the US Navy.
1The creation of two buildings in the City of Suzhou using a BAAM (Big Area Additive Manufacturing) 3D printer is an engineering first in that it printed a 1,100-square-metre villa and a six-story residential block in 6 days using recycled industrial waste as the building material.2
22018 will see the first ever installation of the world’s largest 3D printed steel footbridge in central Amsterdam. Following its installation, sensors will be fitted which will deliver valuable data about the structural integrity of the bridge.3
3The US Navy’s Disruptive Technology Lab has printed a 30 foot long submersible vehicle in under four weeks using carbon fibre at 90% cheaper than traditional versions. The scope for the efficient creation of replacement parts for warplanes and ships, grenade launchers and other weaponry are limitless.4
Looking ahead, whilst according to the Gartner Hype Cycle 4D printing is still in the technology trigger section, it has the potential to greatly influence traditional engineering methods and is specifically significant in biomedical engineering. Since 4D technology allows components to alter their appearance through the addition of time, it will have the potential to allow intricate 4D printed body parts to adapt to a person's individual need, speeding up recovery time.
Strategy for change & recommendation

Integrating additive manufacturing into engineering is highly technical and requires considerable planning. Key drivers propelling 3D printing in engineering include: the pace at which new materials will be certified by regulators; the speed at which algorithms are used to facilitate automated designs and the progress of underlying technologies and how these are integrated into existing models.
Developing a strategy for change requires the consideration of the rate of change desired; whether a firm wants to print prototypes only or undertake the complete manufacturing process; the implications of outsourcing; the capabilities and skills required to sustain the business adoption of the technology and the environmental impact of the model adopted.
Experts provide robust recommendations for dealing with the business-critical aspects and these include: investing in R&D and skills training; establishing cross-functional 3D printing focus teams to gather insight on developments as they happen; outsourcing scenario sketching; and deploying stringent financial planning. Strategic partnerships with complementary companies can reduce the investment required and agile firms need to remain aware of external factors that could influence the industry, such as Brexit. Additive manufacturing technology is outpacing the supply of suitably qualified personnel and it is recommended that the industry invests in up-skilling staff through specialist training, apprenticeships and degree programmes.
The timeless benefits of 3D printing
Among the factors in the technology’s favour are productivity gains, reduced labour costs and safer working environments, as well as the sort of one-off, complex building designs that are not technically and economically feasible at present.
Additional benefits of the technology include and are not limited to: the efficiency and speed of production, round the clock manufacturing, the accessibility of customised design, the reduction of material usage and wastage, the simplification of distribution and sophisticated logistics and the ability to utilise recycled materials.
Key risks
The paper identifies the 3 main risks and the sub-categories associated with 3D printing and examines potential solutions to these which will evolve as the technology does. 
1. Risk to security through cyber attack
Despite the significant efficiency benefit 3D printing affords companies through the more efficient use of raw materials, it also presents the potential for misuse or tampering due to the reliance on digital data streams. 3D printing demands the critical need for improved cyber security protocols. An in depth understanding of the unique security challenges posed by this technology will support many progressive firms to optimise their 3D printing processes.
The theft of intellectual property is achieved by hackers intent on disrupting business operations by transmitting destructive viruses, such as worms and Trojans to computers. In a similar way, the avenues for criminals to disrupt automated 3D printing protocols and digital design files is rife. Manufacturers now face both serious risks from piracy and also from calculated tampering with design layouts to modify components in an unauthorised manner. 
The Atlantic Council report 6, identifies three main types of cyber attacks: deny, which consists of the disruption or deletion of firmware, software, and product designs; compromise (espionage), which is the theft of intellectual property and product design files; and sabotage, which refers to ‘undetected modification’ of printing files with the intention of weakening parts and corrupting their functions”.
Deny is the most obvious, as files would simply be missing, whereas compromise could provide attackers access to protected design information.Sabotage is difficult to detect so presents the most severe attack by impacting product quality. Protocols need to apply quality control methodologies to prevent sabotage that may be undetectable.
How to stay secure: It is important to consider the potential threats identified above from the outset to ensure business stability. Security risk assessment by 3D printing companies is recommended as a standard primary practice to highlight both the most likely and future potential product safety threats. The assessment enables manufacturers to establish precautionary protocols to counter specific types of issues, such as encryption of proprietary design files. Further precautionary measures could include the reduction or discarding of the outsourcing of confidential information. Manufacturing environments that rely on removable disc drives could add wireless firewalls and soundproofing or disconnect the 3D printer and its associated systems physically from the Internet.5
Within the building industry as an example; for any printed manufacturing to be considered feasible, it is critical for organisations to utilise monitoring systems that constantly track, record and inspect the materials as they are being produced preventing potential issues before they arise and allowing for traceability.5
Security experts are most concerned about the issue of customised medical device manufacturing.Where companies transmit CAD files electronically from a central service to numerous remote off-site locations for printing, cyber security precautions are essential to protect the loss of personal medical data. Similarly, enforcing protocols to validate the accuracy and viability of custom-designed medical implants might help protect branded products from a variety of problems caused by data transmission flaws.
Testing techniques will become more sophisticated and attract more rigorous auditing, adding another layer to risk prevention. New, advanced cyber security tools that enhance the safety and security of manufacturing venues is also highly likely in the future.
62. Environmental damage
3D printing looks promising for the future but more research is needed from an environmental perspective. Currently it is not the ideal solution to clean manufacturing but there is potential to improve this which we explore below.
The three main environmental risks posed by 3D printing includes: the process is energy-hungry; produces fumes with toxic by-products; and relies on plastic materials. All these aspects present risks to our carbon footprint and the safety of our planet. 3D printed products are able to produce low carbon parts, but only at the material-production stage where less material is used and there is less waste overall (except where support materials are used and discarded at the end of process the wastage then goes up). In trials certain 3D printing processes use 50-100 times more electricity than injection moulding machines and researchers agree that this is the biggest issue and occurs at the energy-production stage.
Saving our planet: 3D printing presents mass scale, unlimited potential in the future but the technology needs to evolve with new and smarter materials, lower energy consumption techniques and continuous research.
Let us first consider briefly the plastic materials the technology uses. The majority of widely used plastic filaments are Eco-unfriendly. Unfortunately, high-end industrial 3D printers create vast amounts of plastic by-products which are not reusable. There are currently two main thermoplastics used in mainstream 3D printing - acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) and polylactic acid (PLA). PLA is a corn based Eco-friendly plastic and shows great promise as it is renewable, produces considerably less toxic emissions and even less waste. It is also better at the disposal stage at the end of a product’s life cycle. Other earth-friendly, widespread 3D printing materials being researched include powders, resins, bio-plastics, wax, and acrylates. All these offer varying benefits of resource and waste reduction, less toxicity and reduced energy consumption.
Some suggestions for lower energy use include printing objects with hollow parts which require less material and can print faster; adjusting part orientation while printing which accelerates the process and reduces/eliminates the need for support materials; or printing more than one part simultaneously to speed up the process and eliminate the need for support materials.
The good news is that there is lots of potential for future improvements which will reduce or eliminate the significance of this risk posed today. 
73. Product liability and insurance
The legal ramifications of 3-D printed products include intellectual property infringements, piracy risks, data theft, employee liability risks, product liability risks and multi-jurisdictional risks where these products are distributed internationally. As the scope is so vast we will briefly consider product liability as it is predicted to be the most substantial risk associated with 3D printing.
The liability of a 3D product will depend on who is producing and selling it. There will be minimal change for companies using 3D printing to manufacture components for use in their own products. Liability is less clear where processes are split, for example where one company produces a component for use in another’s product, or where one firm provides the design, another the 3D manufacturing, and another the distribution. Manufacturers could encounter litigation for finished products or component products which they did not manufacture themselves.
Determining liability will become even more challenging as new business models emerge such as online platforms where collaboration of designs permits users to customise products that can be printed.
Current product liability laws and regulations are not regarded as suitable to address the distribution of responsibility for defective/unsafe 3D printed products. It is suggested that these will need to be reviewed, discussed and adapted by policymakers. From a product liability perspective, insurers will need to comprehensively assess at the initial or renewal stage traceability of designs, raw materials and components and parties involved. Strategies to manage potential insurance liability include risk management solutions, contingency plans, adaptation of disclaimers and non-liability clauses or caps.
In closing...
It is important to note that it is challenging to implement regulations and laws in the constantly evolving 3D printing industry. Progressive organisations have started implementing security and control measures. ‘Custom Control Concepts’, a company that builds tailored interiors for high-end luxury jets claims it has managed the challenges by setting up a testing laboratory and it has switched to using Ultem, one of the few 3D printable plastics that the regulator approves as sufficiently fire-resistant for aircrafts. GE Aviation, meanwhile, uses “in-process monitoring” during 3D printing to ensure that parts meet the required standards. It discards any parts that fall outside acceptable parameters and scans every third part to detect flaws.
3D printing has huge transformational potential to provide commercial, social and intellectual benefits to society now and in the future.
Embracing digitally disruptive technologies is not a choice but business critical for sustainability and to retain competitive advantage. The future looks bright for the engineering industry if they employ vision and adaptability as central strategies for change. With the emergence of the next iteration, 4D printing, new frontiers will become attainable. Perhaps sooner than we think. Knowing this, it's key for all engineering sector decision-makers to stay informed and remain innovative in approach

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Further reading
- print
-; Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, Section 51


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Topics: Squared Network, Digital trends, Digital marketing, Business case studies, Whitepaper